Schwarzenegger lends voice to infrastructure chorus

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger joined other political leaders Sunday to push for increased federal spending on infrastructure projects as a way to stimulate the economy and said that “one has to look at” increasing the gasoline tax as a way to pay for such public works improvements.

“In order for the economy to thrive and to live up to 100% of its potential, you need to have moved people and goods around very quickly; and so if that falls behind, then the economy falls behind,” Schwarzenegger told host David Gregory on “Meet the Press.”

Gregory asked Schwarzenegger how he would finance more infrastructure projects and if “an increase in the gas tax is a place to start?”

“I think one has to look at it,” Schwarzenegger said. “That’s the next question . . . how do you finance all of this. But I think the important thing is that there’s a willingness amongst the people to pay for it. It doesn’t all have to be done through public money. We are talking here about public-private partnerships.”

The governor’s appearance on the weekly news show comes less than a week after he announced that the first $625 million of federal stimulus money would be used for state infrastructure projects. The money will allow state workers to begin work on 57 transportation projects, including a $75-million job to repave three miles of the 710 Freeway.


Hours after that announcement Wednesday, $500 million for state infrastructure projects also was unfrozen by the Pooled Money Investment Board.

The board had halted funding for thousands of transportation, housing and school projects in December but said the state’s recently adopted budget would allow it to resume selling bonds for construction work.

The state still owes about $2.1 billion for projects it has committed to but has not fully funded. The release of the $500 million is also contingent on the state’s being able to sell $4 billion in general obligation bonds next week, according to a spokesman for the treasurer’s office.

Schwarzenegger was joined on the Sunday morning show by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who are part of a bipartisan coalition of elected officials pushing for increased infrastructure investment.

“Look, everyone gets stuck in traffic. There is no reason why we should get stuck in traffic,” Schwarzenegger said on the show.

More than once during the interview, the three elected officials spoke of high-speed rail.

“This country desperately needs to build a high-speed rail passenger system,” Rendell said, adding that other infrastructure projects also were of vital importance.

“We need to improve our rail freight system. But it’s not just transportation. It’s the levees that failed in Cedar Rapids and New Orleans. It’s dams, it’s water and wastewater systems.”

Gregory also asked Schwarzenegger about his approval ratings and the high rate of unemployment in California. At the beginning of March, a new poll showed that only about a third of the state’s residents thought Schwarzenegger was doing a good job.

“We are very concerned about the 10.5% unemployment rate that we have,” the governor said. “Every billion dollars that we put in on infrastructure, we create 18 to 25,000 new jobs.

“And every person that can go back to work and bring a paycheck home to their family, to me that is great news and that’s what we’re doing right now.”

At the end of the conversation, Gregory asked Schwarzenegger what he thought about President Obama’s quip on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” that his recent bowling score of an unimpressive 129 in the White House bowling alley was tantamount to a performance by a Special Olympics participant. Obama apologized and called Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver to apologize.

Shriver’s sister, California First Lady Maria Shriver, issued a statement expressing disappointment with the comment and the laughter that followed.

Schwarzenegger said Sunday that “I know where [Obama’s] heart is at.”

“I think that he loves Special Olympics and he would do anything that he can to be helpful to Special Olympics,” Schwarzenegger said. “This was one of those slips that, you know, you always regret afterward. And I’ve had mine, believe me, plenty of them where I had to go back and apologize. And I’m sure everyone in public life has had those moments.

“But the important thing is, where’s his heart?”